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Population dynamics in central and edge populations of a narrowly endemic plant
- Aikens, Melissa L., Roach, Deborah A.
- Ecology 2014 v.95 no.7 pp. 1850-1860
- habitats, indigenous species, models, perennials, population growth, Appalachian region, United States
- Species' range limits can be caused by environmental gradients, and in such cases, abundance is thought to be highest in the center of a species range and decline towards the edge (the abundant‐center model). Although in theory decreased abundance is caused by a decline in performance at the edge, it has been shown that performance and abundance are not necessarily related. Few studies have compared abundance and performance in center and edge populations of endemic species, whose ranges may be restricted by the availability of specialized habitat rather than environmental gradients across their range. Additionally, range‐wide studies that examine both northern and southern edge populations are rare. We used Roan Mountain rattlesnake‐root (Prenanthes roanensis), a perennial plant endemic to the Southern Appalachians (USA), to compare abundance and performance between central populations and populations at the northern and southern edges of the range. To account for multiple fitness components across the life cycle, we measured performance of edge populations as vital‐rate contributions to population growth rate compared to the center. Abundance did not decline at the range edge, but some vital‐rate contributions were lower in edge populations compared to central populations. However, each edge population differed in which vital‐rate contributions were lower compared to the center. Our results do not support the abundant‐center model, and it appears that local factors are important in structuring the range of this endemic species. It is important to recognize that when implementing conservation or management plans, populations in close proximity may have substantial variation in demographic rates due to differences in the local environment.